Krill: A Distant Fist Unclenching

Boston's Krill gives us a healthy dose of existentialist objectivity masquerading in post-punk grit -- and maybe one of the most singular albums we'll see this year.


A Distant Fist Unclenching

Label: Exploding in Sound / Double Double Whammy
US Release Date: 2015-02-17
UK Release Date: 2015-02-16

As we grow older, at some point we begin to lose interest in the critical currency of our inward gaze. The staggering pillars of judgment against ourselves and our friends should begin to topple, leaving an array of complex qualities that live outside of the traditional definitions we’ve clung to. This will perhaps be due to new levels of personal growth of the subjects of our gaze -- your “funny friend”, for example, no longer relies on their sense of humor to keep relationships alive but has found a way to be more themselves, allowing other facets of their personality to shine -- but it is no small part a by product of the development of the witness. In this regard, we (as witnesses to the world) share the responsibility of keeping everyone else (the witnessed) in the roles they occupy through our expectations and unforgiving attitude toward change and the grayer areas of human existence.

In the press release for A Distant Fist Unclenching, the newest full length from Boston post-punk trio Krill, singer / bassist Jonah Furman discloses his attempts to “somehow rise above the questions of ‘Am I good or bad? Do I deserve love or hatred?’ and think about what underlies those questions." This departure from the binaries of a younger worldview is critical to A Distant Fist Unclenching.

The band’s previous release, 2013's Lucky Leaves, dealt heavily with the quagmire of the ego. Its songs hinged on "I" statements about depression, rigid definitions of morality, and contempt for self. Furman boldly embraced pain as not only an important element of the human experience, but the only marker of authenticity. On “Oppressor”, Furman unpacked the privilege of peace with acidity: "If you were having a good time / When everyone else was suffering / Then you were the oppressor" precedes the self-condemning "Whenever I have a good time / I just miss my suffering / I am the oppressor." You couldn't help but be reminded of Nausea or Notes From the Underground, in which central characters are made heroes for their discomfort.

A Distant Fist Unclenching explores the other side of angst. Though Krill's songs have always been weighty, irreverent and intellectually sharp, this album is a new marker for both the band and Furman's growing understanding of his self. He seems sick of framing his developing world view in terms of his own existence: “What’s the proper orientation of my self to my non-self? / What’s the proper orientation of my non-self to me? / What’s the proper orientation of the world to my non-self? / What’s the proper orientation of the world to me? / Does it always have to be to me?”. Instead of following the spirals of Lucky Leaves, Furman makes wonderful use of grotesque metaphor to strike existential chords.

The result is the mundane made horrific. Opener “Phantom" paints a Kafka-esque scene that turns a two day old glass of milk left in a microwave into the stuff of nightmares. “Torturer”, the album's first single, explores the experience of objectivity turned on the self by displacing the listener's sense of normalcy and expectation. By presenting the protagonist as visiting the home of a literal torturer "in black mask and spiked collar", and later revealing that the torturer and protagonist are one in the same, Furman blurs the line between "self" and "other". When he craves to "go back inside", the listener is left unsure of who is really speaking, inspiring a strange sense of Dostoevskian dread. Furman's uneasy and wavering delivery, reminiscent of regional predecessor Frank Black, proves the perfect mode of transportation for these tales.

While Furman has said that “Torturer” is "what most Krill songs have ever been about: self-love and self-hate and the rightness and wrongness of each," he seems to be more comfortable (or at least capable) of grappling with and even embracing the gray areas in A Distant Fist Unclenching than Lucky Leaves. When he unpacks the inevitability of death in “Tiger”, he is able to present expiration as both utility and tragedy masterfully. For Furman’s villager eaten by a hungry tiger (a necessary death, in the eyes of the tiger), “The tragedy is / The villager was well-liked / The villager was well-liked / By friends and family and tiger alike." Death is a fact, but the emotions that surround it are dictated by the living, by our subjective valuing of life.

The album’s back half slips into the autobiographical, but the band has earned it by the time “Mom” comes around, a track that finds Furman grappling with his 61 year old mother’s self-hatred, realizing it’s not up to him to dictate or judge what makes her happy. “Squirrels” lets Furman re-enter the comfortable arena of doubt (“To be given / One shot / And to know I / Will blow it”), wishing he could be anything other than himself to get a chance away from his head and closer to someone else. Rather than plunge him deeper, the exercise seems helpful as his certainty of future failure reduces to merely a potential outcome. “Brain Problem” moves well and highlights Ian Becker and Aaron Ratoff on drums and guitar respectively, but might be the album’s most lyrically heavy handed track. On it, Furman keeps a little cynical distance from himself, but it’s possible he’s also tired of being the subject of his own dissection. “It Ends” sends A Distant Fist Unclenching out on a pained whimper rather than a shout, but there is strength in this. “Am I the pest or the beast? / I thought that you had meant Boston / When you said you were moving back East” is the album’s most transparent and heartbreaking phrase.

The experience of listening to A Distant Fist Unclenching is what makes it a powerful album. Sure, the sonic of these nine tracks is catchy enough to make a decent bid for the best of 2015, but there's something else at work here. I mean, when was the last time a song made you existentially ill? After a year of emotion-centric albums, it’s an odd relief to spend some time exploring the other facets of the human experience. Furman is an able and sharp lyricist, with a gift of presenting high concepts clearly and without too much gravitas. The whole band is at its strongest, presenting a meticulously crafted aural background that undulates and crests expertly.

In short, A Distant Fist Unclenching stands out. It is the first in what I’d imagine is going to be a series of standouts from Massachusetts-based bands this year (with Pile’s newest on the horizon and Speedy Ortiz's Foil Deer set to come out in April). Ignoring this album or not giving it a full chance to worm its way in will absolutely keep you comfortable. But why be comfortable? Be Krill, Krill, Krill forever.





Laura Nyro's "Save the Country" Calls Out from the Past

Laura Nyro, a witchy, queer, ethnic Russian Jew, died young, but her non-conformist anthem, "Save the Country", carries forth to these troubled times.


Journalist Jonathan Cott's Interviews, Captured

With his wide-ranging interviews, Jonathan Cott explores "the indispensable and transformative powers of the imagination."

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Coronavirus and the Culture Wars

Infodemics, conspiracies -- fault lines beneath the Fractured States of America tremble in this time of global pandemic, amplify splinters, fractures, and fissures past and present.


'Switched-On Seeker' Is an Imaginative Electronic Reimagining of Mikal Cronin's Latest LP

Listeners who prefer dense rock/pop timbres will no doubt prefer Mikal Cronin's 'Seeker'. However, 'Switched-On Seeker' will surely delight fans of smaller-scale electronic filters.


IYEARA Heighten the Tension on Remix of Mark Lanegan's "Playing Nero" (premiere)

Britsh trio IYEARA offer the first taste of a forthcoming reworking of Mark Lanegan's Somebody's Knocking with a remix of "Playing Nero".


Pottery Take Us Deep Into the Funky and Absurd on 'Welcome to Bobby's Motel'

With Welcome to Bobby's Motel, Pottery have crafted songs to cleanse your musical pallet and keep you firmly on the tips of your toes.


Counterbalance 23: Bob Dylan - 'Blood on the Tracks'

Bob Dylan makes his third appearance on the Acclaimed Music list with his 1975 album, Blood on the Tracks. Counterbalance’s Eric Klinger and Jason Mendelsohn are planting their stories in the press.


Luke Cissell Creates Dreamy, Electronic Soundscapes on the Eclectic 'Nightside'

Nightside, the new album from composer and multi-instrumentalist Luke Cissell, is largely synthetic and electronic but contains a great deal of warmth and melody.


Bibio Discusses 'Sleep on the Wing' and Why His Dreams Are of the Countryside

"I think even if I lived in the heart of Tokyo, I'd still make music that reminds people of the countryside because it's where my dreams often take me," says Bibio (aka Stephen Wilkinson) of his music and his new rustic EP.

Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.


A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.


The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.